Prison Reforms: India

What We do

Prison Reforms: India

We focus on improving prison oversight and reducing prolonged, illegal or unnecessary detention. Towards this, we:

  1. prioritize the proper functioning of prison oversight mechanisms
  2. advocate for early access to counsel and improve legal aid practices
  3. partner with law schools to develop legal aid clinics that provide free legal support to prisoners
  4. assess the pre-trial practices of court
  5. work with governments for early repatriation of foreign national prisoners
  6. ensure timely release and rehabilitation of vulnerable groups in prison
  7. build capacity of criminal justice functionaries related to prisons
  8. litigate in public interest and on behalf of individuals
  9. undertake research on various aspects of criminal justice system particularly using right to information
  10. develop resources and training material on wide range of issues

Our method includes research and advocacy to improve policy and practice; engaging with judges, lawyers, prison administrations, government departments, probation officers, human rights commissions and lay visitors for changing perceptions holistically; strategic litigation and capacity building.


West Bengal – CHRI started working in West Bengal in 2009. The overarching goal is to prevent unnecessary detention with a strong focus on undefended accused persons as well as vulnerable cases such as mentally ill prisoners, juveniles detained in adult detention facilities and foreign national prisoners. Research, legal analysis and advice, advocacy, capacity building, network building, strategic litigation and conference facilitation are the various tools that are used in order to achieve this goal.   

Over the years we have maintained a strong focus on ensuring effective access to legal aid services to accused persons. In order to effectuate this, we work closely with both the legal services authority and the prison department and it is our constant endeavor to bring to the fore key concerns for their information and action. CHRI also runs legal aid clinics in some prisons in WB, which is an effort to revitalize and support the state sponsored legal aid services. The clinics act as a bridge between the legal aid authorities and inmates, in as much as, it facilitates prompt information sharing and coordination between the various stakeholders with the underlying goal of streamlining legal aid delivery to accused persons.

Rajasthan – A demonstration project aiming at preventing unnecessary detention and strengthening prison oversight was inducted in 2011. It uses a legal aid services providing and monitoring model similar to West Bengal where cases of vulnerable communities especially of indigent, mentally ill, women and foreign prisoners are identified and assessed through a functional legal aid clinic in Jodhpur Central Jail. After the recognition of their needs on a case to case basis, they are either provided in-house representation or referred to the Jodhpur District Legal Services Authority or any other appropriate authorities. The project emphasizes on improving the culture of public defense between the time period of arrest and filing of charge-sheet through comprehensive trainings, workshops and consultations in order to change court practices and eventually reduce pre-trial detention. Concurrently, it presses for effective and timely court production of prisoners and the implementation of multiple prison oversight mechanisms such as Board of Visitors and Undertrial Review Committees by building evidence on their functioning and undertaking strategic litigation. In 2009, it was also a focus state in for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Andhra Pradesh – The 5 year project (2004-2008) in Andhra Pradesh addressed the issue of defunct monitoring of prisons. It focused on developing bridges between the State Human Rights Commission, the Judiciary and the District Administration. This resulted in setting up of Non-Official Visitors in 20 large urban prisons and 100 small rural ones. It became mandatory for the 22 district judges to visit all the prisons in their jurisdiction and then report to the court. It also facilitated the release of life-sentence prisoners by mobilizing public opinion through the media, and on a personal level. On two occasions, 1,000 prisoners who had served over seven years were released from prisons around the state. In 2009, it was also a focus state for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Maharashtra – In 2008, work began in Maharashtra to study the conditions of 12 sub jails. Maharashtra not only has the highest number of jails (153) in the country, but also records the highest number of sub-jails (114). In 2010, CHRI with Voluntary Action for Rehabilitation and Development (VARHAD) published a report assessing the conditions of those sub jails and the rights of those housed in them. This report aimed to provide a broad overview of the sub-jail system in the state and examine whether the NCRB was correct in inferring that the jail system at the “lower formation” is “well organized”. It shed light on the functioning of sub-jails in Maharashtra by focusing on the rules and regulations applicable to their functioning, kinds of statistics that are available on these jails, administration of sub-jails in the state; oversight mechanisms like the Prison Visiting System; and general conditions in these jails, including food, clothing, basic amenities, sanitation, hygiene, medical facilities and security arrangements. The work found recognition when the High Court of Bombay on the basis of this study passed orders for composition of a Board of Visitors in sub jails of Maharashtra and revision of the Sub Jail Manual on the lines of Prison Manual wherever required. Currently, the status of compliance of the High Court order by the State is being studied. In 2009, it was also a focus state for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Madhya Pradesh - Working with the Human Rights Commission of Madhya Pradesh – the then largest state in India –CHRI began to study the functioning of the prison visiting system in 1998. The study was conducted in seven jails of MP - two central, two circle, one district and two sub- jails. These prisons were Jabalpur and Raipur (Central Jails), Bilaspur and Sagar (Circle Jails), Durg (District Jail), Janjgir and Sihora (Sub-Jails). Having collected its data, analyzed the infirmities and gaps, and deconstructed some areas of the complex prison manual, it held training workshops that brought together members of the judiciary, prison authorities, members of the Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission, NGO groups, and most importantly a majority of the Non-Official Visitors of the state. Perseverance reaped rewards in 2003 when, as a direct result of the aforementioned efforts, Divisional Commissioners passed orders creating Boards of Visitors. In 2009, it was also a focus state for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Orissa - Work began in the summer of 2009 with an aim to examine whether the prisons in the state house under-trial prisoners in contravention of the existing provisions on bail as well as under sections 107 and 109 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1972. The study sought to determine the reasons for non-implementation of the existing legal provisions. The report contained recommendations for the state government and the subordinate judiciary on how to ensure the implementation of the existing law. It also contained suggestions for the prison officials, state legal services authorities, and the board of visitors on steps that could be taken to avoid unnecessary detention and overcrowding. A key target group for this report is the prison department and the civil society in the state which could play an important role in monitoring the implementation of the above mentioned Cr.P.C. provisions.

Karnataka – In 2007, a project to explore the status of Prison Visiting System in Karnataka was launched. However, due to full cooperation from the Department of Prisons, an extensive study on the conditions of prisons covering all aspects of prison life was published and the issues requiring urgent attention was brought to the department’s notice one at a time on a priority basis. This resulted in the formation of a committee to inspect the prisons without prior intimation after lock-up. Consultations and capacity building workshops were organized for prison officers in collaboration with the Prisons Department and Regional Institute of Correctional Administration (RICA) and on juveniles. In 2009, it was also a focus state for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Chattisgarh - The focus was to ensure uniform implementation of Prison Visiting System across the state. Following CHRI advocacy, all 27 prisons in the State had timely and regular appointments of visitors and Boards of Visitors. The quality of appointments had also improved. In 2009, it was also a focus state for examining the utility and functioning of Jail Adalats.

Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand -  In 2009, a one yearlong study was conducted to examine the process of jail adalats in different states and how they deal with cases where the under-trial prisoners charged for petty offences are ready to plead guilty. Jail adalats are essentially criminal courts held within the prisons for the speedy disposal of cases. One of the primary aims of the study was to identify good practices of holding jail adalats and examine whether these could be adopted in other states. The report seeks to encourage a debate on the use of short-cut mechanisms in the criminal justice system like the jail adalats. It brings to the fore the problems that these hastily thought out "solutions" give rise to. The target audience for this report includes the prison and judicial officers who arrange and hold these adalats; the political leaders who may be induced into thinking that these adalats should be given statutory recognition without any further debate; other state agencies like the human rights commissions which recommend their use and the civil society.